Kenya & Uganda – Travelogue

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This article was written in my student days and originally printed in the Leeds Student newspaper on 27/2/04.

A hygiene freak, I hated hot weather, emitted impressively high-pitched squeals in the presence of most insects, and didn’t like children much. Initially, teaching in a rural Ugandan school didn’t seem particularly alluring. Nevertheless, I’d dropped out of University ten days before Fresher’s Week with an unprecedented desire to do take a year out to do something radical and worthwhile. That very day, I signed up for a four volunteer month project with the reassuringly expensive ‘Africa Venture’ gap year company. Over the next ten months I raised about £5000 by working for IKEA and by writing off to companies, trust funds and millionaires. Recent lottery winners and Tom and Rita Naylor were kind enough to donate most of the costs.

As the days ticked away, I began taking a vaguely dodgy anti-malarial called Larium. The ‘Larium Victim Support Groups’ on the internet and tales of lasting brain damage and depression did little to reassure me about the 90% effective one-a-week tablets. Already I’d learnt that hard way that taking them on an empty stomach was a painfully bad idea. Half a dozen jabs and two days of packing later, I was set to go – my nervous inexperience reflected in the 40kg suitcase I packed containing ‘just the essentials’ (including 8 bottles of shower gel, 30 packs of polo mints, 6 tubes of toothpaste, washing up gloves, thesaurus and washing line.)

Adventures – Mass Adult Circumcision

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Every two years, tens of thousands of Ugandans come together in celebration for a mass adult circumcision festival. The Bugisu tribe in the east of the country gather around Mbale and up to 20,000 young boys – usually around 18 years old – get the snip. There is no anaesthetic or sterilisation and often blunt butter knives are used, as shown in the video above. After the cutting, the boys must bear the pain to prove themselves. Most young men are proud to be part of the ceremony as it marks their entry into manhood.

Advocates have tried to promote the practice as a Christian tradition, citing passages from the Old Testament. However, the New Testament makes it clear that circumcision is unnecessary.

My travel buddy Dave and I were lucky enough to get a great view of the tribal spectacle by climbing on top of a Pepsi truck. Just as we thought the craziness was over, and were headed home to Budaka, I was surrounded by an impromptu ceremony in the Mbale’s town centre. In exchange for a few thousand shillings I was allowed to continue filming – however, the procedure went wrong and you can see that, rather than the tip being removed, the entire shaft was skinned. We never found out if the guy survived, but discovered that some procedures lead to lasting injury or death as hospitals are not easily accessible.